Shelly-Ann “Dr Sexy-Ann” Weeks
The average young woman has her first period between 10 and 15 years old. While there’s no exact age, most start menstruating at age 12. This experience is very daunting for these young girls because, in addition to the actual menstruation, she can feel much discomfort, including pain, vomiting and excessive bleeding. At this stage in her life, she is trying to come to terms with the changes that her body is experiencing while working out the symptoms that often accompany this important rite of passage. Unfortunately, most girls aren’t properly informed, so they can’t understand what’s happening to their bodies, and most parents are focused on preventing pregnancy.
There are young ladies attending school that find it hard to purchase lunch during the day, so buying menstrual hygiene products pads, tampons, etc is next to impossible. Some of these students are on the PATH programme and are from low-income families. Personally, I believe that menstrual products should be available for free in schools. I mean, there are debates going on about having condoms available which I believe that they should. But the fact is, sex is a choice, a girl’s period is not, so there should already be free menstrual products in schools.
I met a lady while I was running an errand one day, and she came up to me and told me about her period issues. She spoke about how expensive personal hygiene products were, especially menstrual items. She said that she purchases a baby diaper from her corner shop, cuts it in strips and uses it as her pad each month. Her confession made me pause, because I never thought about the price of these products. I know I need them, and when I go to make my purchase, price is usually not the most important deciding factor more important are brand and features. In that moment, it occurred to me how fortunate I was and how much I take for granted.
In an effort to tackle period poverty in the UK, The Guardian, a UK-based news outlet, reports that firms are donating products to homeless shelters amid evidence that women are forced to use newspapers and discarded fabric. According to the article, “It’s quite something when you give somebody a box of tampons and they break down in tears.” Nigel Webster, the project manager of the Bestwood and Bulwell Food Bank in Nottingham, says he has been warning for years about “period poverty” when women and girls struggle to pay for basic sanitary products on a monthly basis, with significant impact on their hygiene, health and well-being.
I think this is an example that Jamaican policymakers and corporations need to follow. Since the release of my book I Changed My Diet And Changed My Life, where I detailed how I was able to go from having 11-day long, heavy, painful periods to 4-day, pain-free periods by changing the way I eat, I speak to so many women who have painful periods and instead of doing something about it, they suffer in silence.
Having a monthly period is healthy, and so many women are just not able to afford the products. This is why something must be done to end period poverty in Jamaica. That is why I established Her Flow, an initiative designed to address the stigma and shame still associated with having a period, facilitate free menstrual products in schools, help women break the silence so they can address their painful periods, and to end period poverty.